Archive for the 'General' Category

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Jared O’Mara’s likely resignation should prompt another look at extending proxy voting in the Commons

Sunday, July 28th, 2019

The current restrictions help neither the public nor MPs

Parliament is – and is meant to be – a tough arena. MPs and ministers take critically-important decisions and need to be accountable for them. Ideas and arguments need to tested and pitted against one another. Failures (and perceived failures) will be pounced on, often ruthlessly. Unfortunate ministers and shadow ministers who make the wrong mistake at the wrong time find themselves at the centre of a political storm often out of all proportion to the event itself, and often resulting in an unjust resignation – a storm made all the more intense these days by social media and 24-hour news reporting.

As such, it was clearly a high-risk decision from Labour to nominate Jared O’Mara for a very winnable seat – and one that was only ever going to end in disaster once he didn’t receive the proper support his autism necessitated to transition into, and survive in, such an environment. Clearly, he has to take his own share of responsibility for his failings but they are not his alone.

One question that the Commons should be asking itself is what more can be done to support MPs who are suffering from mental health disorders (indeed, what more can be done to help them acknowledge that they are suffering from these disorders in the first place)? Even more than many other jobs, the incentives are to keep their heads down and get on with it.

Instead, parliament should looks to extend the scheme it introduced last year, when it voted without opposition to allow MPs who are new parents to nominate a colleague to cast proxy votes on their behalf, meaning that they can more meaningfully take maternity or paternity leave without having to worry too much about the effect that doing so would have on the government’s majority.

Some might argue that MPs occupy an unusual position that’s not comparable to normal jobs; that they are elected by their public and have not only a mandate but also a duty to represent their constituents. As such, giving their vote to a colleague abdicates that responsibility and undermines democracy.

There is a little in that argument but surely the stronger point is that parliament should ideally represent the country at large. Two very under-represented groups are women and the under-35s and making Westminster more family-friendly might address some of the structural reasons that produce those imbalances.

However, if parliament is going to consider the principle that someone who wasn’t elected to represent a given constituency can cast votes on behalf of the MP who was, why limit it just to sitting MPs? After all, much of an MP’s job is done outside the voting lobbies – receiving and responding to constituency mail; tabling questions, amendments, EDMs and so on; speaking in the Chamber; serving on Select and other Committees. These jobs still need doing just as much when the MP is on leave. Some of those roles could be filled by either the MP’s office acting on an understanding of what the member would want, and for the larger parties, many points that a given MP might make could likely be made by a colleague but that needn’t be true for smaller parties, for example.

More relevantly, given the O’Mara situation, why limit the proxy system to just parental leave? Why not introduce it for MPs on long-term sick (which also would mean that they’d be less stressed about letting constituents down by their absence)? It’s far from unknown for MPs to function at far below the normal capacity due to illness, particularly where it’s a terminal one but also when the MP might be recovering from a serious accident, illness or other medical event. In these cases, their constituents still need and deserve representation.

Some might argue that MPs in such positions should resign and let someone who can do the work take over but that ignores both a basic humanity and also practical politics. MPs are unlikely to resign where they think their party might lose the seat – especially when the numbers in parliament are poised as the currently are. Also, where the MP recovers, or expects to, it’s both unrealistic and unreasonable to expect him or her to resign.

It’s not unreasonable, however, for the voters to expect their voice to be heard in Westminster. How to square the circle? I’d suggest that it ought to be possible for an MP to nominate a substitute to act as a proxy, with full powers and for up to 12 months between elections, and with the nominated substitute subject to a confirmatory vote in the Commons. During that time, the MP on leave would be barred from acting in any formal capacity as the MP to avoid conflicts.

The limited introduction of parental leave is a good baby step in the right direction but the principle could, and should, go a lot further.

David Herdson



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Lazy Summers but politics can go on

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

In An Italian Education, Tim Parks describes the wonderfully languorous routine of an Italian summer: the shutting down of all but essential services in hot, humid cities leaving them to tourists, the departure for the coast, the gathering of the extended family, the early mornings to enjoy an espresso outside when the day is cool, the encampment at the same spot on the beach amongst the ombrelloni, neatly and beautifully laid out, la bella figura being quite as important when little is worn as at every other time, lunch followed by siesta, the late afternoon passeggiata before evening entertainment.  Day in, day out, the rythym is much the same, punctuated by religious festivals: Sant’ Andrea in Amalfi in late June, for instance, or Ferragosto everywhere.  Then the gentle return home in September, with weekend visits to the coast for those lucky enough to live nearby.  It is a time to breathe, relax, close off the pressing problems of life, which can – for now – wait.

Yet summer has often been when horrible crises and unexpected events have impolitely intruded into this idyll.  Consider:-

  1. 1980: Solidarity’s emergency in Poland – at the end of August following weeks of unrest at the Gdansk shipyard and the Pope’s undermining of the regime’s credibility with his “Do not be afraid” message during his visit the previous year.  It was also possibly one of the first times when right-wingers in the West, normally allergic to collective action and solidarity when practised by workers in their countries, unreservedly welcomed the creation of a trade union not enamoured of socialism, communism or the Soviet Union.  For precisely the opposite reasons, some on the Left in the West were wary of these particular workers.  The butterfly wings flapped in Gdansk that summer led – eventually – to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.  Few in the West (beyond obscure bearded backbenchers and over-privileged Guardian columnists) mourned its loss  But it took another summer event finally to set the wheels in motion.
  2. 1989: East German holiday makers in Hungary – over that summer East Germans holidaying there, noticing that the border fence with its Western neighbours had been removed, refused to go home.  They sprinted past border guards, slipped across the border in woods, slowly at first in small numbers and then more boldly, more and more of them until camps had to be created to house them and the West German Embassy in Budapest found itself the holiday home of choice of hundreds of East Germans desperate to escape.  Eventually, the pressure became too much.  They were allowed to leave, the delighted refugees contemptuously throwing their East German papers out of the windows of the trains as they fled.  It was only a matter of time before the chants in Dresden of protesters: “Wir sind das Volk.” (a reminder to their masters of who the People really were) became a cry of: “Wir sind ein Volk”.  The reunification of Germany, the release of Eastern Europe from its grim oppression, Europe becoming whole again was an event of geopolitical importance, yes, but above all an expression of hope and freedom and longing for a better world, of people taking back control of their lives in the most meaningful way possible.  An Ode to Joy to celebrate.
  3. 1990: Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August – possibly the last time when – in relation to the Middle East anyway – the world agreed who the aggressor was, who the victim, what had to be done and then did it.  The expulsion of Iraq from its ill-gotten gains was executed with masterly precision.  Its aftermath (Saddam staying in power, his crushing of the revolt against him, the horrors inflicted on the Marsh Arabs) led, in part, to another less well-executed, less justified invasion 13 years later, whose consequences reverberate today and likely for decades more.
  4. 1991: The failed coup against Gorbachev – the trembling heads of the plotters as they announced their coup that August betrayed their nerves.  Yeltsin seized the moment, stood on tanks outside the Russian Parliament and dared them to do their worst.  The Soviet Union crumbled, bringing down with it Gorbachev who had, whether intending to or not, done so much to show up its failing and rotten core.  It was a moment when the world held its breath and a US President, not known for his linguistic fluency, musing about whether the coup would succeed, gave encouragement to those resisting it.
  5. 1997: the Asian financial crisis – starting in July with capital flight as the Thai currency was floated, spreading to other Asian countries and Japan and resulting in IMF support to the troubled region.  A portent of trouble ahead.
  6. 1998: a Russian financial crisis  – in August when Russia devalued its currency and defaulted on its debt.  One of the high-profile victims was Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund set up by ex-Salomon Brothers traders and boasting two Economics Nobel Prize winners on its Board.  Their claim to fame was having devised a brilliant new way of valuing derivatives.  Despite such brainpower, LCTM managed to lose $4.6 billion in less than 4 months that summer, was bailed out by the Federal Reserve and closed 18 months later.  Alas, the two obvious lessons to be learnt: (1) when clever people talk about “a new paradigm” in finance, it is time to put your money under the mattress; (2) there is a sort of stupidity that only clever people are capable of – was not learnt by anyone important at the time.  Hence …..
  7. 2007: The financial crisis – starting with a French bank, in August, blocking withdrawals from two of its funds because it no longer knew what they were worth (a sign they were probably worthless) and leading, via increasing worries amongst policymakers, central banks, regulators about the state of the financial system, to the UK’s first bank run as Northern Rock depositors decided the mattress was indeed safer.  The signs had been there for some time but had been ignored.  In July, Citigroup’s CEO, a lawyer-turned-banker, gave his own inimitable account of the Greater Fool theory – not realising the fool was him – when he said: “When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated.  But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.  We’re still dancing.”  Whoever thought that putting lawyers in charge of a bank would be a good idea?  They turned out to be every bit as bad as bankers at running them.  The crisis went on and on and on.  We are now in the pause between that one and the next.
  8. 2008: Civil unrest in South Ossetia, Georgia – the Georgian President’s decision to send in troops into the rebellious province that August gave Putin the excuse he needed to send in his troops.  The West huffed and puffed but did nothing.  What could it do?  Those hopeful days of 1991 had given way to a defensively proud and aggressive Russia, one easily recognisable to 19th century leaders.  Was the Soviet Union’s fall an opportunity missed?  Dutch holidaymakers in flight MH17 shot down in July 2014, Ukrainians and Crimeans would like to know.
  9. June – August 2016: Greece and the Euro – A charismatic politician comes to power vowing to renegotiate terms with the EU, to end his country’s humiliation and even gets his electorate to support his showdown.  It is all of no avail.  He is forced to back down.  His party is split.  Terms are agreed – or rather – dictated by the powerful neighbour.  There is no more talk of boldness.  The politician hangs onto power being finally ejected three years later by someone promising boring economic competence.  Perhaps Greece, having provided a template for democracy, is providing another one.
  10. Summer 2019: Britain – our PM tells the EU, which has said for months that negotiations are at an end, that he will not negotiate with them unless they give him what he asks for first.  The EU is now trying to understand what sort of a threat it is to say that you will not do something which the other party has also said they are not doing.

Perhaps it will take until October for all this to come to a crisis.  Perhaps.  But MPs heading off for their holidays might just pack an emergency bag for returning at short notice.  Just in case.  You never know what summer might bring.

Cyclefree




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At this critical time reflections on “Cultivating Democracy”

Sunday, July 21st, 2019

Occasionally I have planted a gorgeous looking plant; it has flowered briefly then died.  On digging it up I find the dreaded wine weevil or roots which have made no attempt to spread into the soil and find nutrition.  It is a reminder that nourishing the hidden roots is by far a gardener’s most important task.  A plant not strong and well anchored will be blown away by the winds, destroyed by frost or succumb to malicious bugs and parasites.

As with plants, so with democracy.  The assumption these days is that its most important aspect is the ability to vote.  Elections are the visible, exuberant expression of a democracy, its flowers if you will.  These days scarcely a day goes by without some politician referring to the 2016 referendum as the biggest democratic exercise in Britain’s history, as if this were an unprecedented event, of such preciousness that nothing else should come close.  Of course voting is essential or, rather, obtaining people’s consent to their government is.  But elections, on their own, are not sufficient to make a democracy.  Iran has elections.  But even its most fervent admirer would be hard pressed to call it that.  For democracy to flourish, something more is needed: what might be termed a democratic cast of mind and approach and culture informing how the various institutions in a state and everyone from voters to political parties and politicians behave.

What does this mean?

  • An understanding that state and government are not the same.  State institutions are there to serve but are independent and impartial and not party political.  The civil service, for instance, enacts government policy but also exists to warn, improve and advise.  Blind obedience is not necessary for good policy-making and implementation; indeed, it may hinder it.
  • Winning does not mean winner takes all.  The state is not there to be plundered, stuffed with your placemen and used for your own ends.
  • Understanding that the ends do not justify the means.  How one exercises power is, in a democracy, as important as what one is trying to achieve.  A party which comes to power is – for a time – custodian of the powers and institutions of the state and has a duty to pass these on in a workable state for the next government.  The rules of the game, the constitution, the conventions, the protocols, the implicit understandings of the limits of power may be of little interest to most voters, may indeed be seen as old-fashioned, out-dated, incomprehensible folderols but they exist in all democracies and are there to ensure that power is obtained and exercised fairly and in a way which does not place such excessive strains on the system that it breaks (or comes close to doing so).
  • Realising that your time in power will be not be for ever.  One day you will be in opposition and will need the tools which can be so irritating to governments facing challenge.  If you accrete more and more power to yourself, your opponents can use it against you when are in opposition.  It is, therefore, wise to ask yourself whether you would be happy to have the worst possible opponent in government with the same powers (that you, of course, are only ever going to use wisely) at their disposal.  Perhaps those in power could remind themselves of Lord Acton’s aperçu about power and corruption.
  • Accepting the concept and reality of opposition, that the very fact of opposition or a different point of view is legitimate and that this forces you to raise your game, to justify what you are doing, to think again, to take account of different viewpoints, to modify, to realise that you may not have all the answers, to understand that the tension inherent in having to reach agreement with those who disagree can often lead to a better, more long-lasting outcome.
  • Independent institutions who have their own role to play in ensuring good governance, proper scrutiny and a properly democratic culture: the press, the judiciary, all sorts of bodies from Burke’s little platoons to bodies set up by government to scrutinise and challenge and review.
  • Leaders who understand that they are and should be open to challenge and scrutiny and MPs and others who are unafraid to challenge and scrutinise.
  • A realisation that while it is parties which win elections, once in government your primary duty is to the country.  The interests of the party are separate from the interests of the country, however much parties like to pretend otherwise.  Of course, governments make choices about who their policies will benefit and about what is electorally popular.  But only a government in the grip of hubris should claim that it represents the British people as a whole or that the winning side in a vote is somehow the Will of the People as if anyone who opposes or disagrees is somehow unBritish and to be ignored.  A difference of opinion does not make one a traitor or even misguided.  There is more than one way of analysing a problem, thinking about an issue, devising a solution.

And as in government, so for political parties.  Parties have always tended to be broad groupings with a range of opinions.  A narrow purist approach to what it means to be Labour or Conservative or Liberal or Liberal Democrat has never really taken hold.  In part, this has been because the electoral system has forced internal coalitions on parties while, at least until recently, making actual coalition governments less likely than in other European countries.  (One of today’s ironies is that just as parties become ever narrower and purist the more likely it is that they will not gain a majority but be forced into coalition with others.)  Whatever the reasons, this has reinforced an understanding that a democratic culture within parties – as well as within the country – encompasses negotiation, compromise, accommodation.   Compromise and barter are the essence of democratic politics.  They are at the heart of how differing interests and viewpoints are managed, of how trust and tolerance and respect for others are lived rather than merely asserted in speeches.

As Burke put it, it is: “a very great mistake to imagine that mankind follows up practically any speculative principle, either of government or of freedom, as far as it will go in actual argument or logical illation.”  Politicians would do well to remember this.

Idealistic: yes.  Naive: almost certainly.  In practice, politicians have not always paid attention to these principles or not as much as they ought.  But better to aim for ideals and fall short than ignore them altogether and undermine them.  And the latter seems to be happening now.  The travails of the Labour Party over anti-semitism and of the Tories over Brexit show us politicians with little implicit understanding of what a democratic culture really means:-

And so miserably on.  Implementing a referendum result should not mean taking a sledgehammer to the very democracy which made it possible.  Wanting a radical set of policies to help the less well off need not mean behaving like a nasty spiteful sect lashing out at anyone outside the charmed circle.  Perhaps the Brexit referendum caused this.  Maybe these tendencies were always there and were exacerbated by it.  It scarcely matters.  What matters now is that politicians try to remember that their biggest duty is to nurture our democracy, to make sure it lasts and flourishes and is handed on to future generations in good order.  For all the talk of Votes and Mandates, their actions are those of destructive parasites.  If not checked, they will end up killing what they claim to love.

CycleFree


 

 



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This unique feel good moment has the potential to change our politics. The questions are will it and how

Monday, July 15th, 2019

Probably the most significant decision by a media organisation in decades was that by Sky to allow yesterday’s Lords final of the cricket World Cup to be broadcast on free to air television. This meant that many more people were sitting gripped to their TVs as Stokes faced that “Super over” that clinched it. This made it a truly national England and Wales event.

In Scotland things will be looked at very differently but that’s another story and and likely next LD leader, the Scottish Jo Swinson, will have to be careful with her words on this.

I’m old enough to remember the Football World Cup victory at Wembley in July 1966. Even many of those who weren’t even alive at the time can recite Kenneth Wolstenhome’s final commentary line as extra time came to an end “They think its all over – it is now”. In many ways yesterday was even more dramatic.

Already some politicians have tried to seize the extraordinary victory to make political capital. Moggsy put out a Tweet saying “We don’t need Europe to win” something which he is already under fire for. Coming as it does at a time of incredible political change we can expect a lot more of this.  There is a danger in the Rees-Mogg approach because it looks too exploitative – just the sort of thing you would expect a Brexit obsessed politician to do. The Guardian reported:

Rees-Mogg’s fellow Conservative MP Ed Vaizey said that his colleague was guilty of “slightly misjudging the mood”, before adding that “while you’re on, the English captain is Irish”. Alastair Campbell suggested that “perhaps instead of making a silly Brextremist point, offer congratulations to the Irish captain, the NZ-born man of the match, and the Barbadian bowler who got it over the line”.

It was good that Theresa May was there at Lords to enjoy something in the final ten days of her troubled Premiership. At least her presence was genuine. She is a long-standing cricket fan. This wasn’t like Cameron’s shallow claims to be a West Ham or was it an Aston Villa supporter.

Whatever as we move to a new, uncertain and potentially dangerous political era there is something to feel good about.

Mike Smithson




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What is there to say after a sporting day like this one?

Sunday, July 14th, 2019

I’d focused on the tennis and have just watched the final hour of the cricket on C4+1.

Totally amazing.

Mike Smithson


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Darroch shows he’s a true diplomat and resigns

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

Trump’s Tweets made his position untenable

Mike Smithson




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The revolution will not be televised

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

The sleeper topic that will corrode the government’s ratings

 

Allow me to tell you the most middle class joke in existence.  Q: What do gay men do in bed? A: Eat biscuits and listen to Radio 4, same as everybody else.

OK, it’s all in the delivery.  Radio 4, and the rest of the BBC, have long term concerns about the delivery of their services too: where is the money going to come from to fund them?  This is a central problem for a broadcaster that does not take paid advertisements and that is dependent on public funding.

The BBC’s funding in large part comes from the revenues for the television licence fee.  In 1999, the government made licence fees for the over 75s free. It did so by the government meeting the cost and paying that sum over to the BBC.

In an era of burgeoning deficits, George Osborne could not afford such largesse.  When the BBC’s charter came to be renewed, it secured the BBC’s agreement in 2015 that the government would phase out this subsidy by 2020, leaving it to the BBC to consider whether it would continue to offer free licence fees for the over 75s.

The BBC duly consulted and earlier this month announced that it would be discontinuing free licences for all over 75s as from June 2020.  It would continue to provide free licences for those over 75s who were in a household where one person received the pension credit benefit.  However, this excludes most of the pensioners who previously enjoyed this benefit.

The news broke, the howls of disappointment were heard and the news cycle moved on.  It is far from clear, however, that the general public is as philosophical about the matter.  A Parliamentary petition to reverse this decision has already reached more than 160,000 signatures with little publicity, putting it comfortably in the top 10 for live petitions (four of those above it relate to Brexit).  Complaints about this decision are whistling around Facebook feeds – you might well have seen posts like the one at the top of the thread.

There is a certain irony about resistance to changes to television licence fees being organised online.  For the internet is one of the essential challenges to television’s future as a medium. It is, however, now much easier than ever before to see what really motivates voters (or at least what they are talking about).

It’s not necessarily that the BBC’s decision is a bad one as a general principle.  Pensioners are on average wealthier than the average and they are much more likely to be watching television in the first place – the average age of viewers of both BBC1 and BBC2 is over 60.  It isn’t immediately clear why wealthy old people should have their entertainment subsidised by younger poorer people. You can imagine their collective choking into the ovaltine if it were proposed that Netflix subscriptions for millennials were to be paid for free from the exchequer.

This is not a cheap subsidy.  The cost of providing free licences to the over 75s accounts for roughly a fifth of the BBC’s budget.  Contrary to the message in the tweet above, the cost is roughly £750 million a year.

However, the public rightly has a special tenderness for the needs of the elderly and a sizeable proportion of the public is hostile to the idea of exposing them specifically to any aspect of austerity, whether or not those being asked to pay could in fact afford it.  And the central point of British politics should not be forgotten: old people vote.

This decision is likely to be blamed on the government and there is a real prospect that it will help lose the Conservatives votes.  No wonder some of the Conservative leadership candidates, including that fluffy dewy-eyed liberal Esther McVey, were looking to reverse it.

In the longer term, the problem of funding the BBC remains.  One of the live petitions that has the most signatories advocates scrapping the licence fee completely.  That raises the question how the BBC should in fact be funded. Fewer and fewer people are watching TV (television viewing hours are dropping steeply at present) and young people are not in the habit in the same way as earlier generations.  The BBC remains relevant to all – for example, 81% of the public get news from it in one way or another. But if the licence fee itself is becoming an anachronism, how is the BBC to continue to thrive in an increasingly multi-media world?

And what of those gay men I mentioned at the outset?  Just 1% of 16-24 year olds get news from Radio 4 (52% of them get news from Facebook).  Unless the public’s habits evolve further, those gay men are soon going to have to start doing something else in bed instead after all.

 

Alastair Meeks



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House games: Where Dragons fly and swords shimmer

Saturday, June 8th, 2019

Welcome to a very real fantasy

Season 3: Episode 23/26

Violence and turmoil stalked the land. The old queen was not yet dead though she might as well have been. Her demise had been long, inglorious and inevitable, and yet that very inevitability gave her stubborn fight against it a redeeming air. It might have done little for her kingdom save stave off civil war for a few months but it had at least done that, as rival armies massed over the horizon – sometimes not even over the horizon.

With no natural heir, rival contenders circled each other warily within her realm too, uneasily aware that alliances were hard made and easily broken; that to engage in the contest was to make oneself too clearly a rival power should they fail and yet to not engage smacked of weakness. Better to demonstrate strength now and seek a deal later off the back of it than to repeat the fate of the now-banished Duke of Osbourne who the old queen had advised to ‘get to know the kingdom better’ after he’d declined to seek the crown he might so easily have worn had the first great War of Brecsit ended differently.

Yet if fear of a rival’s success from within the House were not enough, other Houses sought the throne too. Not that any of them were overwhelmingly powerful. The massed forces who gathered under the banner of the Red Rose were many, yet divided and under the leadership of a man more wizard than prince.

Endless had been the intrigues and yet still he led, having now outlasted two occupants of the Great Throne, protected by his courtiers and ready to make another bid for it himself.

Or her would be were it not that a power greater than any human – or any wizard – were at large. Men may seek the Throne; women too. But the War of Brecsit had unleashed a dragon which had no desire for such petty prizes: it sought nothing less than to control the soul of the kingdom. To gain true mastery meant not only subjugating rival Houses but slaying that dragon, for whilst it lived, no human could govern.

Yet how to kill it? The old queen had sought to appease the beast but whilst its appetite for silver was voracious, still it always demanded more. Much more. Demands which could not possibly be met despite her willingness – hence the poison in the 1922 claret which now ailed her.

Many in the House of Unio argued that the dragon must be confronted and slain, even if that took a second great war. Corbin was not yet moved though. The skirmish of Petricastra [see episode 22] had proven to him that he could fight on the ground of his own choosing and that others would be weakened by attrition over the summer. His own forces could still stand. Let the great gatherings of the Equinox determine the strategy for the decisive autumn battles, even if the cost of so doing was to let the dragon continue to run amok. Better to govern a scarred and scorched kingdom than not to govern at all.

But Unio was not alone in seeking the Great Throne. Suddenly, not one but two other armies sought the field, sensing the weakness and division in the Castle and the opportunities that gave. Remarkably, the House of Libertas – last seen routed in Season 1, when their erstwhile allies turned on them in a brutal, bloody but highly effective purge – was back, and back in strength. True, their prince too had been forced to abdicate but not before, perhaps more by luck than judgement, he had led them to exactly the right place at the right moment.

More extraordinary still was the reappearance of the Duke of Tusomnum, also last seen at the end of Season 1, who now rode his own dragon at the head of a new army. Although Petricaster had proven a defeat for him, it was a defeat that nonetheless showed both his hand and his strength.

For now though, both Libertas and Tusomnum had matters to attend to. They would join the epic battle for the kingdom but not until the Season finale. Before then, the Yellow army had a succession of its own to manage, while the Teal banner flew above a force that was comprised overwhelmingly of novices and which needed time to be trained.

And the Court? Riven by intrigue, division and dissent, there hung heavily an oppressive air over the internal power struggle: an uneasy sense that it might all be a fool’s prize. Earl de Feffel might well win out for now but what good would that do once the nights started to draw in, if he couldn’t unite his House and couldn’t defeat his rivals, never mind slay the dragon and heal the nation. That was truly a quest for heroes and whatever else de Feffel might be, few saw him as that.

He knew though that October would be the time. Inescapably, the pieces were all moving to ensure not just a Second Brecsit War then but also, so soon after his ascent, probably his downfall – unless he could pre-empt it by taking his rivals by surprise. Should he fail though, winter would come, for him and his House. Depending on the war’s outcome, possibly the kingdom too.

David Herdson (who has never watched Game of Thrones).